- Posted on: Apr 29 2021
By: Michael Lehr
More and more American businesses are planning for life beyond the pandemic. As we navigate through the ongoing vaccine rollout, state and regional restrictions are being lifted, and more and more citizens around the country are either going back to the office or preparing our businesses for an economic upturn. How your company chooses to handle getting back to business may mean the difference between success and failure. The decisions you make today lay the groundwork for what your business’ new normal will look like and can protect you from what the future may bring. As you embark on these important decisions, having an experienced attorney by your side can be beneficial in addressing any questions you may have.
Your business needs to stay productive to stay competitive. Covid-19 caused businesses of all sizes and industries to reassess their organizational structures and employee policies to remain profitable while retaining their highly trained employees. Your business needs unique strategies to train, support, and retain your workforce no matter where they are so that you can remain productive and take advantage of projected economic increases. Research on productivity during Covid-19 indicates that factors like engagement, rest, and even the volume of emails can all affect your bottom line. Talking to professionals about your responsibilities and the consequences of restructuring, retraining, or reorganizing staff can help you stay productive in changing times.
In 2020, many businesses that had never considered allowing staff to work remotely implemented work-from-home policies. Whether this was the result of company policy or state mandates, that decision may change your current and future responsibilities to your employees. A recent study from the Pew Research Center shows that most employees who have been working from home because of the pandemic want that to remain an option in the future. Not only may employees expect a more flexible approach to the workspace, but they now may have a legal basis to ask for it. The Covid-19 pandemic has given rise to new arguments for what constitutes a “reasonable accommodation” under Federal laws, like the ADA. Principally, the argument(s) is that working remotely is a reasonable accommodation for employees if they can complete their work without traveling to and from a physical office/work-site. If industry leaders keep a remote work policy, which many have, it may lead to a new industry standard that may impact your legal decisions as well as your recruitment and retention strategies. What your company chooses matters to your future, financially and legally.
As Covid-19 vaccinations roll out across the country, supply has finally caught up with demand, and all U.S. citizens are free to seek out available vaccinations. However, this does not eliminate all risk of transmission, and the government (including local, state, and federal) has not implemented a mandatory vaccination requirement. Thus, as your business returns to “normal,” the question remains – what can you do to protect your employees and customers while the pandemic winds down? What your company decides to enforce relative to vaccinations, temperature checks, and other infection control measures has legal consequences for your employees, your customers, and your shareholders. State and federal laws and administrative regulations all impact a company’s policies in this area. Most businesses aren’t in the position to know their legal rights and responsibilities in this area, and they are changing too quickly for most companies to keep up with. Seeking out qualified business attorneys who handle these types of issues on a daily basis is crucial to ensure you return to full capacity safely and within your rights as an employer.
Due to the pandemic, companies around the globe revised their PTO policies in 2020. Some have allowed more time off; some have revised or expanded upon the basis for specific sick days, such as mental health days; and others have utilized more creative policies like Covid-19 sick banks. Although mandated federal leave has already expired, tax credits for voluntary leave have been extended. If your company changed the way it distributes paid or unpaid time off, it might affect your employees’ rights under state and federal law. In addition, if human resources staff are making decisions on who grants leave in emergency situations, when and whether they grant it, and to whom may be fertile grounds for litigation. On the other hand, businesses that haven’t changed any leave policies could also find themselves liable if employees were, or are, required to come into work after exposure or when ill. Figuring out how to protect your employees and your business takes the advice of professionals who understand all the repercussions.
Before Covid-19, many companies spent a significant amount of their overhead on office space and travel. It’s estimated that companies can save about $11,000 a year on one remote worker who only works from home half the time. If that cost savings works for your business, you need to know what the tax, liability, and benefits consequences would be. How that impacts legal issues like workers’ compensation, travel allowances, and more might influence how your company handles infrastructure issues that will change as a result of Covid-19.
Any policy that your business considers as we move past this crisis has the potential to have real financial and legal consequences. Talking to the experts about your options can keep you and your staff productive today and in the future.
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Cortland Putbrese is a partner at Dunlap Bennett & Ludwig. His practice focuses on intellectual property, complex commercial litigation, insurance, employment, products liability, and political law matters. Mr. Putbrese also represents clients in nationwide alcohol beverage control licensing and regulatory matters. He has represented public figures and entities hailing from such distinguished groups as Fortune 500 companies, elected officials, national media pundits, sports anchors, notable authors, statewide political parties, and national political committees.
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Posted in: Business Law